Fly me to…Zatec in a Cessna 150

Emir Halilovic

This week in Panorama – Rob Cameron takes to the skies for a flight over North Bohemia in a Cessna 150 light aeroplane, skilfully flown by IT consultant and qualified pilot Emir Halilovic. Fasten your seatbelts – but best leave your luggage at home.

Almost every young boy dreams of being a pilot when he grows up, and I was no exception. But like 99 percent of young boys I soon grew out of the idea, especially after my first visit to the opticians…but I still bear a secret admiration for the glamorous life of a pilot, and love each and every flight, even the awful low-cost ones with the delays and the screaming kids. So when a pilot friend, Emir Halilovic, asked if I’d like to take a spin with him in a light aircraft in the skies of North Bohemia, I jumped at the chance.

Emir’s a qualified pilot who’s working towards his Commercial Pilot’s Licence. He’s a founding member of the Aviaticky Klub flying club, which operates out of two airfields, one of which is Roudnice, about 20 minutes north of Prague on the motorway to Teplice. On a damp and rather alarmingly cloudy day, we parked outside Roudnice airfield, and Emir gave me a brief tour of the half a dozen planes in the hangar…

“…and this is a constant speed propeller. And this one is an Antonov 2.”

That’s a Russian plane right?

“Yeah, it’s a Russian transport plane, basically a utility transporter. It’s mostly used here for parachute drops.”

But we’re not going to fly that today…

“Nah…this a Zlin 142, a Czech trainer. And this is a Piper Malibu. This is a plane for serious travellers. You can fly as far as 2,000 km. It has a de-icing system on the whole aeroplane.”

So it’s quite sophisticated then.

”Yeah it’s sophisticated, it also has a weather radar, look, under the wing. It’s very well equipped, you can fly instrumental in it, it’s a pressurized cockpit so you can fly above 3,000 metres without the need to use oxygen. This is a 172, but the newer model with direct injection. It doesn’t require carburettor heating because it doesn’t have a carburettor. It’s a very good plane for travelling in in visual conditions.”

Piper 38,  photo:
It seems to be quite a well-equipped flying club.

“Definitely. All the way in a back you can see the Cmelak, an agricultural plane.”

That’s a crop-sprayer.

“Yes, a crop-sprayer, it’s Czech-made. And the little ones you see here, these are ultralights. But I don’t know anything about them because I don’t fly them.”

I’ve heard Emir that all pilots look down on ultralights with some disdain. Is that true?

“No, not really. In this country ultralights require less hours to get a qualification, but in fact flying ultralights can sometimes be very tricky, because, you know, you have to cut corners somewhere. So it’s a partly a problem that their safety standards are not so high and basically the construction of the plane is not as rugged.”

Unfortunately Emir’s plane of choice – the Piper 38 – was being flown by someone else, so we settled for a Cessna 150, one of the most common light aircraft in the skies today.

“This design actually comes from the ‘50s, then it was rejuvenated several times. First it was made with a tail-dragger design, then they switched to the kind of typical tricycle landing gear, and that’s the major difference. This aeroplane is probably from the ‘70s, however its airframe life is practically unlimited. It’s all metal, aluminium etc, and its avionics are pretty new in fact.”

And the most obvious difference between the Cessna and the Piper just next to it is that on the Cessna the wing is over the cabin, and on the Piper it’s underneath.

“Yes, this a high wing, it’s better if you want to look at the ground, if you’re navigating using landmarks and so on.”

Does it make a difference to the aerodynamics, the different positioning of the wings?

“Definitely. Usually aeroplanes with low wings are more manoeuvrable. That’s usually the case, not all the time.”

And which do you prefer flying, the Piper or the Cessna?

“I prefer Pipers now, because I’m a little bored of Cessnas. I’ve flown Cessnas for ages. The Piper’s cockpit is more spacious, it’s wider. OK, let’s get in. There you go. Engine start up procedure – absolutely the same. Here’s the mixture – full in. The fuel switch is very different, because it doesn’t have a selector for left and right tank. Both tanks work at the same time. There’s no fuel pump – therefore it’s simpler to operate. What you also see is that the view above the instrument panel is not as good as in the Piper. OK, we’ve checked everything is fine. Turn master switch on…fuel tanks – full, more or less. The engine should be warm – there, it starts up like a charm. Leave it at 1,000 RPM. Check the oil pressure, oil temperature, they’re all good, we’re good to go. Let’s just turn on the radio. What we want to you listen to right now is Ruzyne ATIS – that’s the Automatic Terminal Information System, which will give us information about the weather conditions near Ruzyne. Right that’s it, we’re ready for takeoff.”

The noise of the Cessna’s engine made recording difficult, but it was an exhilarating feeling climbing up, up and away over the fields and into the air. With the mountains of North Bohemia to our right – we could see snow on the distant peaks - and the beginnings of Prague to our left, we headed west for Zatec, the little plane bobbing along like a small boat on the waves. At Zatec we did a smart 180-degree turn before heading for home, as the light began to fade, and coming in for a surprisingly smooth landing.

Emir’s ambition is to give up his job as an IT consultant and become a commercial pilot. Bit of a risky career change you might think, but after spending an hour and a bit in the air, I can totally see why.